Misleading Terminology

Dog trainers who use punishment-based approaches and equipment designed to work by causing fear and/or pain commonly market themselves under a variety of verbiage and marketing slogans such as “balanced,” “positive relationship,” “natural methods,” “relationship building,” “positive only,” and “no food necessary.” These are all taglines that are bandied around but mislead unsuspecting owners who are looking for humane ways to train their pets.

Meanwhile, the terminology used may be carefully crafted to appeal to pet guardians who may not always understand the various training methods available or the fallout and unintended consequences of making the wrong choice.

Trainers using harmful and scary punishment are not providing consumers the necessary autonomy to make ethical decisions on behalf of their pets, nor do they provide any kind of consumer protection. This, compounded with the inability of a pet to offer informed consent, further questions the ethics of such training practices, given that the foundation for anyone working in behavioral sciences must surely be to do no harm (Pet Professional Guild, 2016).

2000 Years Ago

Over 2,000 years ago, referring to the medical profession, Hippocrates (400 B.C.) wrote: “The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future—must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.” Working with animals, whether in the veterinary field or any other capacity, the moral and ethical obligation to do no harm is surely just as meaningful.

Abusive Training Practices

Listed below are just some of the abusive practices still seen across the dog training industry:

  1. Hanging – the dog is raised off the floor by his collar or a leash, in some cases until he loses consciousness.
  2. Swinging – the dog is swung around with his feet off the floor by his collar or leash.
  3. Slamming – the dog is lifted up and slammed into the floor or wall
  4. Shocking – electric shock is administered through a collar around the dog’s neck, stomach or genital area.
  5. Multiple shocking – more than one electric shock collar is attached to a dog around the neck, stomach and/or genitalia.
  6. Alpha roll – the dog is purposefully rolled onto his back as a means to control and intimidate, often paired with harsh, loud, and offensive verbiage.
  7. Kicking, hitting, prodding – the dog is physically assaulted with a human body part or a prod-type instrument.

Credible Scientific Study

In recent years, much creditable scientific study has been given to dog training and behavior modification methods and their respective efficacy and consequences. The preponderance of the evidence shown by current research indicates that the implementation of training and/or behavior modification protocols predicated upon “dominance theory” and social structures (“alpha,” or “pack leader”), and/or the implementation of physical or psychological intimidation, threats, coercion, or fear are empirically less effective and risk creating problematic consequences, including “fallout” behaviors that may be dangerous to the human and animal involved such as growling, snapping and biting.

Defining Dominance Theory

According to DogNostics Career Center (2018), dominance theory is used within the same species to predict the winner of a conflict when fighting over a specific, context-oriented resource. Scientifically, dominance only applies to two beings of the same species, thus a human cannot be dominant over a pet nor can a pet be dominant over a human. In a wolf pack the dominant beings are the wolf pups; however, wolf researchers have moved away from alpha terminology and are now using terms that correspond with the role of the particular pet in the family unit.

Using dominance theory to train dogs is today considered to be outdated and obsolete, with current scientific knowledge recanting the findings of previous studies that promote the implementation of alpha rolls and so-called dominance training. Leading expert and board certified veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall (2016) states: “Dominance theory has shut off scientific research and has crept into medicine to the point where we think we can do things to animals whereby we are asking them to ‘submit.’ In pop psychology, dominance theory is insidious and has crept into everything we do with dogs and it’s wrong. It has gotten in the way of modern science and I’ve just about had it. Every single thing we do with dogs hurts them because we don’t see them as individuals or cognitive partners…Unfortunately, the dominance, discipline and coercion approach has affected every aspect of how we interact with dogs from basic training to treating troubled dogs. We must abandon these cruel, scientifically unsupported labels and approaches and replace them with a humane, scientifically-based approach that is dog-centric and attempts to understand situations from the viewpoint of the dog.”

Not All Professionals Work To Do No Harm!

People may think that to work in the pet industry one must love animals, yet, in reality, how can this be possible given the varied topography of pet care? In addition to the examples of cruelty, abuse and neglect highlighted earlier, we must also consider pet professionals who still rely on outdated training practices and cultural myths while ignoring the growing body of science that proposes specific, humane methods and approaches. Is this really so different to a public policy that accepts the use by a medical professional of alcohol as an anesthetic, or leather arm cuffs as restraints as standard operating procedures? We are now in a position to know better. In fact, in most professions that involve counseling, mental health, education, or training, there is a professional expectation and, indeed, a legal mandate that, no matter what the field, a professional must practice according to the best, most reliable and up-to-date scientific research available.


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